I love beer in 355mL cans.
Unfortunately, here in Ontario, the government-run LCBO (one of only a few places brewers can actually sell beer) prefers to stock 473mL beer cans. Additionally, given that 473mL cans cost about as much as 355mL cans, economies of scale mean that it’s more cost effective to sell beer in tall boys (i.e. you can buy less of them to package more of your beer). What this means is that the smaller 355mL format is fairly unpopular among craft brewers in the province.
This scarcity, paired with some nostalgia for the days before I drank good beer, is probably what drives my love for the little guys but, whatever the reason, I’ve been waiting patiently for a local craft brewer to put a good beer in the coveted wee cans.
That day has arrived.
And, as luck would have it, the brewery that opted to do so has just opened roughly five minutes from my house.
London, Ontario’s Anderson Craft Ales officially opened their doors on August 6th 2016.
Family owned and operated, Anderson is a 15 barrel brewhouse overseen by Gavin Anderson. Anderson worked as a volunteer at West Sixth Brewing while completing his doctorate in microbiology in Lexington, Kentucky and then worked as a brewer at Brasseurs du Petit Sault in Edmunston, New Brunswick. Anderson says that the success he enjoyed at Brasseurs du Petit Sault (one national award and four regional awards for recipes he created) helped him convince family members to back him with equity contributions to open this space in London.
And so now Anderson acts as the president and head brewer of a very family-oriented brewery: His dad, Jim, helped with much of the business side of things during start-up and both father and son contributed to a large amount of the space’s initial construction. Gavin’s sister Aynsley handled the brewery’s communications and social media (until they eventually hired some employees) and she still organizes the brewery’s events. Gavin’s brother Fraser is slated to continue tending bar at the tasting room during his upcoming parental leave, Gavin’s mom, Susan, and sister-in-law, Heather, helped design and decorate the space and, finally, Gavin’s wife Amanda has been running the taproom during evenings and weekends.
Anderson also employs Pete Jones, a brewer who comes to London by way of Muskoka Brewery and Mill Street and who attended the Niagara College brewing program.
I visited the Anderson gang the day after their grand opening to check out the space and taste their wares.
The first thing you notice about Anderson Craft Ales is that it’s big. From the road it’s not much more than a hulking warehouse, identified only by a large logo adorning a bay door (the actual entrance is around the side). Few brewers opt to (or rather, can afford to) launch in such a large space but Anderson’s space in a fairly industrial part of London’s east side is 7000 square feet and features 40 foot ceilings.
“The big space was not exactly what we were looking for starting out,” Gavin Anderson tells me. “But we are happy with how things have come together. With zoning issues there were only a couple places that we thought were practical, and I figured the wide open space would make production run a lot smoother. I kind of have production PTSD from the last brewery I worked at, where it was spread over five levels and all of the cellaring and packaging happened in a basement with nine foot ceilings.”
At the entrance, a large bay door opens on a natural, live-edge, wood bar with seating for half a dozen or so and nearby are a few bar-height tables by a selection of tshirts and branded glassware for sale and a window to the actual brewery. Up above and behind the bar is a mezzanine that features large, communal tables and strung light bulbs, offering a kind of a bare bones picnic vibe overlooking the large brewery space. There’s also cornhole to play and an oversize Jenga set. It’s not really a “destination brewery” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s clear that effort has been made to at least provide a comfortable spot to hang out for an hour or two and drink some beer.
Speaking of which, the beer being made here is definitely worth a visit.
When I visited, they were pouring four styles: An IPA, an Amber, a Wheat, and a Brown. Somewhat refreshingly, these beers have no names, but rather are simply called Anderson IPA, Anderson Brown, etc.
The 4.7% wheat, the first beer I tried, was not what I expected given that it didn’t have much in common with a standard weissbier or a wit, and, instead, was a little cloudy with a thin head and some faint but pleasant tropical fruit aromas. The flavour too was fairly mild, offering up some juicy citrus flavour and a bitter finish that seemed to betray the beer’s advertised 20 IBUs. A not at all unpleasant beer (I took a growler home for a BBQ later in the day).
The other beers available were near textbook (read: good) examples of their respective styles.
The brown ale, a 4.6% rich, aromatic beer, had notes of coffee and even tobacco backed by brown sugar and raisin flavours and a finish just bitter enough to be thirst quenching. A very good beer.
The amber, which was seemingly the hit of the grand opening given its absence in the retail space when I visited, was a nice but fairly mild beer. Here again there was some brown sugar and a slightly bitter finish but the prevailing characteristic was a sort of warming sweetness. An utterly inoffensive beer. In a local market that’s perhaps not quite ready to embrace overtly experimental beer (this is literally Labatt’s town after all) I imagine this is the beer that will find its way onto most draught menus in typically conservative London.
For me, the hit of the lineup was the above-pictured IPA. A 6.5% ABV, this beer didn’t have a ton of aroma and had a fairly quickly dissipating head and, when I sniffed it, I was actually prepared to be disappointed by the taste. Instead there was an excellent herbal, citrus bite and big juicy hop flavour with subtle caramel malt, a little wet-hop vegetal note, and a bitter finish. The beer is perhaps especially notable given that Anderson tells me none of his first choices for hops were available when he opted to make an IPA and, instead, this beer’s made with the relatively less-often-employed Cashmere and Idaho Seven hops.
And of course, this beer is available in badass 355mL cans.
Adorned with fairly straightforward branding–plenty of white space and a simple logo and style name–I personally found it impossible to leave without buying two six-packs to take home and imagine many other visitors will be similarly compelled.
Anderson tells me the impetus behind small cans was two-fold. “It is a more sessionable size,” he says. “I have spoken with people who said they don’t always want to commit to drinking an entire tall boy every time they have a beer and prefer the smaller cans. It’s also a more portable format. If you know what you want, it is easy to just grab a six pack and head to the beach, cottage, golf course, friend’s house, whatever.”
Incidentally, the Amber will be returning to cans soon too if it hasn’t already. And, if you’re not into bitchin’ cans, the brewery sells everything that’s on tap in growlers and half-growlers they’re calling “grinders.” They’ll also fill growlers from other breweries.
The taproom is open Wednesday to Saturday 11am-9pm and Sunday 12pm – 5pm and, if you’re one of a growing number of people who need to justify your drinking with physical activity, they also feature the seemingly-now-mandatory yoga days and a beer running group. Check it out if you’re in the neighbourhood–and give me a call when you do. I’m close by and will probably be down with grabbing some more little cans.